If you've been on the rollercoaster of restrictive diets, labeling certain foods as "bad," and internalizing harmful beliefs about certain eating habits, know that you're not alone. I know the frustration that stems from this cycle—how it can leave you feeling trapped and disconnected from the joy that food should bring. And, it’s not your fault! There’s a LOT of misinformation out there, a lot of pressure to jump on a “quick fix”, plus the unrealistic images of wellness often promoted by the media.
I’m here to tell you it's time to release those negative associations and embrace a new narrative—one that empowers you to nourish your body and soul without guilt or restriction. This 3-part series is a journey together towards liberation, where food becomes a source of pleasure, energy, and vitality, guiding you towards a path of lasting well-being.
Planting seeds of mindfulness way before the first bite.
The first step in building ANY relationship with ANYTHING starts with cultivating an awareness. Mindfulness in eating doesn't just begin the moment food touches your lips—it starts long before that, from the very moment you start contemplating what to eat. This is a crucial aspect often overlooked, but it sets the tone for the entire eating experience. Here's how you can integrate mindfulness from the very beginning of your food journey:
Intention Setting: Before deciding what to eat, take a moment to set an intention for your meal. Consider what your body truly needs—nourishment, energy, comfort, or perhaps a combination of these. Reflect on what will truly serve your well-being in that moment.
Engage Your Senses: As you think about what to eat, engage your senses. Consider the flavors, colors, and textures that appeal to you. Instead of letting your mind default to habitual choices, take a moment to explore new options that align with your body's needs and desires.
Check-In with Hunger: Pause and check in with your hunger levels. Are you ravenously hungry, moderately hungry, or just slightly peckish? This awareness can help you make choices that satisfy your body's needs without overindulging or under nourishing. Sometimes even if I feel the slightest tinge of hunger, I find myself going “OMG I’m starving” – when I’m actually, completely, not starving at all.
Avoid External Influences: Try to make your food choices free from external pressures, like diet trends, social expectations, or emotional triggers. Connect with your inner wisdom and make choices that truly resonate with you.
Gratitude for Choices: As you make your final choice, feel gratitude for having the opportunity to nourish your body. This shift in perspective turns meal decisions into acts of self-care and appreciation.
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Incorporating Mindful Eating:
Mindful eating is more than a technique—it's a mindset. It encourages you to be present with each meal, snack, and nibble. At its core, mindful eating involves tuning in to the sensations of hunger and fullness, engaging your senses, and embracing the act of nourishing your body as a sacred ritual. It's about letting go of the rush and chaos of everyday life, even just for a few minutes, to carve out a space & time for yourself - to truly savor the nourishment before you.
The Benefits of Mindful Eating:
Enhanced Awareness: Mindful eating cultivates heightened awareness of your body's signals, helping you differentiate between emotional hunger and true physical hunger.
Improved Digestion: By savoring each bite and chewing thoroughly, you aid digestion and nutrient absorption.
Weight Management: Mindful eating encourages you to eat until you're satisfied, preventing overeating and promoting natural weight regulation.
Reduced Stress: Creating a peaceful mealtime environment reduces stress and fosters a sense of calm.
Enjoyment of Food: When you focus on flavors and textures, you'll find a newfound enjoyment in your meals.
Mind-Body Connection: Mindful eating strengthens the connection between your mind and body, fostering a harmonious relationship.
Create a Mindful Meal Environment:
Choose a Dedicated Space: Designate a specific area for your meals. Whether it's your dining room table, a cozy nook, or even a peaceful outdoor spot, this designated space helps signal to your brain that it's time to slow down and savor the experience.
Minimize Distractions: Turn off or silence electronic devices, including phones, computers, and TVs. Distractions can disconnect you from the present moment and hinder your ability to fully appreciate your meal.
Set the Table: Create an inviting table setting. Use placemats, cloth napkins, and your favorite dishware to elevate the experience. This simple act of arranging your table communicates that your meal is deserving of your time and attention.
Mindful Breathing: Before you start eating, take a few deep breaths to center yourself. This simple practice can help you transition from the hustle of the day to a state of presence and relaxation.
Express Gratitude: Begin your meal with a moment of gratitude. Reflect on the journey of the food to your plate and acknowledge the nourishment it provides.
The simple act of chewing might seem like a mundane step in the eating process. But, the way you chew plays a significant role in your overall eating experience and the impact it has on your digestion, satisfaction, and connection with the food you consume. Benefits of Chewing Slowly:
Improved Digestion: Chewing thoroughly initiates the digestive process. The enzymes in your saliva begin breaking down carbohydrates, making it easier for your stomach to continue digestion.
Nutrient Absorption: Breaking down food into smaller particles increases the surface area, allowing nutrients to be absorbed more efficiently.
Enhanced Satiety: Slower eating gives your body time to send signals of fullness to your brain. This helps prevent overeating and promotes natural portion control.
Sensory Experience: Chewing slowly allows you to fully engage your senses. You can relish the textures, flavors, and aromas of each bite.
Presence: Mindful chewing brings your attention to the present moment, helping you savor your meal & foster a deeper connection with your body's cues.
How to Practice Mindful Chewing:
Take Smaller Bites: Start by taking smaller bites. This makes it easier to thoroughly chew and fully experience the taste.
Put Down Utensils: After each bite, put down your utensils. This encourages you to pause and fully engage in the act of chewing before taking another bite.
Count Chews: Initially, try counting how many times you chew each bite. Aim for around 20 to 30 chews before swallowing.
Pay Attention to Texture: As you chew, notice how the texture of the food changes. Is it crunchy, smooth, or tender? This attentiveness enhances your sensory experience.
Engage Your Senses: Take the time to truly taste the flavors of your food. Close your eyes if it helps you focus on the experience.
Breathe: While chewing, remember to breathe. This maintains a sense of relaxation and presence.
Connecting with your hunger (and fullness) cues
Ever find yourself saying, “I’m so full but I can’t stop eating – it’s so good!”? Yeah, we’ve all been there! Or, you know you’re just eating because you’re bored? Listening to your hunger cues and actually honoring them is going to be a game changer when it comes to your relationship with food.
Benefits of honoring your body's cues:
Balanced Energy: Responding to hunger signals prevents extreme fluctuations in energy levels, supporting sustained focus and vitality throughout the day.
Preventing Overeating: When you acknowledge and address hunger promptly, you're less likely to overindulge when you do eat.
Reduced Cravings: Nourishing your body when hunger arises helps reduce the intensity of cravings for unhealthy foods.
Enhanced Satisfaction: Eating when hungry enhances the pleasure and satisfaction derived from your meals.
Digestive Ease: Stopping when comfortably full supports optimal digestion and minimizes discomfort.
Natural Portion Control: Tuning into fullness again helps you avoid overeating, ensuring you eat the right amount for your body's needs.
How to Practice Honoring Hunger and Fullness:
Check-In: Before you eat, pause and assess your hunger levels. Are you ravenous, moderately hungry, or just slightly peckish?
Eat with Presence: As you eat, stay present with each bite. Notice how the food tastes, smells, and feels in your mouth.
Pause Mid-Meal: Put down your utensils halfway through your meal and assess your fullness level. Are you still enjoying the flavors, or have you reached a point of satisfaction? It's still going to be there in a few minutes so chillax for a sec!
Rate Fullness: During meals, periodically rate your fullness on a scale from 1 to 10. Aim to stop eating when you're at around a 7 or 8—a place of comfortable fullness.
Practice Gratitude: Once you've reached a comfortable level of fullness, express gratitude for the nourishment you've received.
"Mindful eating is an opportunity to return to yourself. It is a practice that can deeply nourish and heal you." – Thich Nhat Hanh
Integrate gratitude into your routine:
You can see many of the parts of mindfulness intersect with each other in their benefits but gratitude truly deserves its own section. The practice of gratitude in the context of eating is a transformative step in mindful eating, inviting you to view food not as mere sustenance but as a source of vitality, a reflection of nature's abundance, and an opportunity to honor your body.
Benefits of Practicing Gratitude:
Enhanced Mindfulness: Incorporating gratitude into your meals brings your attention to the present moment, deepening your awareness of the flavors, textures, and sensations of each bite.
Cultivated Connection: Gratitude fosters a connection between you and your meal, encouraging a more conscious and intentional eating experience.
Positive Emotions: Expressing gratitude elicits positive emotions, contributing to a more joyful and satisfying mealtime.
Shift in Perspective: Gratitude helps you shift your focus from the rush of daily life to the simple act of nourishing your body, fostering a sense of appreciation.
How to Practice Gratitude During Meals:
Pause and Reflect: Before you begin eating, take a moment to pause and reflect on the nourishment before you. Acknowledge the effort that went into growing, preparing, and presenting your meal.
Express Gratitude Internally: Inwardly express gratitude for the opportunity to nourish your body, and all the parts of your body functioning that allow you to take in nourishment. You can silently say a few words of thanks or simply take a deep breath to center yourself.
Savor Each Bite: As you eat, take your time with each bite. Savor the flavors, textures, and aromas of your food. Let your appreciation infuse every moment.
Reflect on the Source: Consider the journey your food took to reach your plate—the hands that cultivated it, the earth that nurtured it, and the processes that transformed it into a nourishing meal.
Building a positive relationship with food is a crucial aspect of overall well-being and long-term health. It means shifting away from restrictive diets and adopting a more balanced, mindful, and intuitive approach to eating. This journey is about empowering you to become the curator of your own well-being. It's about listening to your body's whispers and responding with kindness, not punishment. It's about learning to discern between genuine hunger and emotional triggers and nourishing yourself in ways that honor both your physical and emotional needs.
I hope you've enjoyed Part 1 of Healing Your Relationship with Food! What did you think, did you learn something new, or do you still have questions?
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